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    Aston Villa v Crystal Palace Preview

    By Scott Hunt

    It was a weekend of contrasting fortunes in the FA Cup third round for these two sides. While Aston Villa were held to a 1-1 draw by League Two Wycombe and captain Micah Richards clashed with angry fans, Crystal Palace sealed an impressive victory over Southampton at St. Mary’s to progress into the fourth round. It’s a tale of contrasting fortunes in the league as well this season with lowly Villa in a seemingly impossible battle against relegation while Palace are still believing a European place may be within their reach.

    Recent league form has been a bit patchy for Palace though. They are without a win in their last three and have failed to score a goal in those games. But that stutter in form is nothing compared to the struggles at Villa Park however. Winless since the opening day, manager Remi Garde is still looking for his first victory since taking charge and the side sit a whopping 11 points adrift of safety. In fact their points tally of eight is the third lowest after 20 games in Premier League history.

    When the fact that Palace have the best defensive record in the league away from home and are unbeaten in the last four on their travels is taken into account it would seem like a straightforward win for Palace. But assistant manager Keith Millen says they will show their opponents full respect.

    They'll be fighting for their lives and we have to make sure we match that, develop our game and cause them problems,” Millen said.

    “They've still got a lot of games left. You're just looking for that first win [in that situation] then confidence builds.

    “We need to get off to a good start. We don't want to encourage the fans to get behind the Villa team.

    “They'll be looking for something to cling on to, the first goal to get the crowd going and get their confidence up.

    “The Villa players will be hurting so they'll be looking for a response. They'll want to put a performance on for the home fans.”

    Palace were boosted by the return of Bakary Sako at the weekend, who made his first outing since being injured in November, and the summer signing from Wolves grabbed the winner the last time these sides met back in August.

    The Eagles are the masters of the away performance and will travel to Villa Park fully confident of taking all three points against a side who have forgotten how to win. Garde’s men have back-to-back home games and know that the toxic atmosphere that erupted at Wycombe on Saturday will only worsen if they fail to pick up a win.

    Key Men

    Micah Richards may not have been flavour of the month with a section of Villa support at the weekend but the fact he was prepared to front up to the dissatisfied fans demonstrated a fortitude and resolve that the club desperately need at this time of crisis. He also grabbed a goal against Wycombe but his main job is defensively and that is a role where Villa need him to give more and give them a platform to build on.

    Palace’s match-winner at the weekend was Wilfried Zaha and he is a player who has brought an attacking spark to the Eagles in recent weeks. Manager Alan Pardew has challenged the winger to add goals to his game and will hope the strike against Southampton sets him on a goalscoring run.

    Team News

    Richards is set to be available after being substituted due to an injury at the weekend but Gabriel Agbonlahor and Jack Grealish are doubts for the game at Villa Park.

    Connor Wickham is in contention for Crystal Palace after a calf injury Yohan Cabaye is doubtful following a training ground knock and Yannick Bolasie is sidelined with a leg problem.


    Aston Villa 0-2 Crystal Palace

    Photograph: Tony O'Brien/Reuters
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    Item Reviewed: Aston Villa v Crystal Palace Preview Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Scott Hunt
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